Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Medical notes 
Background Briefings 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Robert Hall reports
"The arms of an unknown donor were painstakingly joined below the elbow"
 real 28k

Friday, 14 January, 2000, 18:35 GMT
World's first double hand transplant

Hand transplant Surgeons prepare for the transplant

The world's first double hand transplant has been carried out by a team of international surgeons in France.

The 33-year-old patient - a man from Rochefort on the west coast of France - had both arms amputated below the elbow in 1996 following an accident when an amateur rocket exploded in his hands.

He was given the hands and a small part of the forearms of a donor.

The 17-hour operation was conducted by France's Jean-Michel Dubernard and Australian, Professor Earl Owen, at the Edouard-Herriot hospital in Lyon.

British surgeon Nadey Hakim was a member of the surgical team.

Surgeon's transatlantic dash

He assisted in the operation just hours after stepping off of a transatlantic flight.

He abandoned a lecture tour in New York on Wednesday after receiving an emergency call saying the mammoth operation was going ahead.

When he arrived at lunchtime, fellow surgeons had been working on the operation since 6am.

Fluent French speaker Mr Hakim, surgical director of the transplant unit at St Mary's Hospital, London, then spent two hours working to attach the arms.

In the highly complex procedure, surgeons first pinned together the bones, then set about the meticulous task of fusing together tendons, skin, arteries and nerves.

Professor Owen operating on Clint Hallam
The donor recipient was injected with four powerful drugs to suppress his immune system to lessen the chances of his body rejecting the new hands.

A 50-strong team of doctors and medical technicians - including 18 surgeons - were involved in preparation for the ground-breaking operation, although none of them took part in it.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said: "The operation went well. But it is too early to say whether it is a success.

"In the early days they will be monitoring for any sign of rejection."

A communique from the hospital said the patient and the new hands were in a stable and satisfactory condition.

Mr Owen, of the Microsearch Foundation of Australia in Sydney, told reporters: "The patient just woke up and he's very happy.

Twice as much blood lost

"We in the team, including people from France, Spain, England and Australia, are all pleased and we expect him to do well."

Mr Hakim said that the operation had been difficult.

He said: "You have to co-ordinate the work on both sides, left and right.

"Whenever you do any operation the patient loses blood, and doing two big operations at the same time you lose twice as much, if not more.

"The body is not used to losing blood and it is very difficult for the anaesthetists - they have to watch the patient very carefully."

The patient's identity, and that of the donor were not made available.

M Dubernard performed the world's first hand transplant operation in September 1998 on Australian Clint Hallam at the same hospital.

Sixteen months later, Mr Hallam's body still has not rejected the grafted hand and forearm. However, he has said that the transplanted hand does not have the full sensitivity and dexterity of his original hand.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
24 Sep 98 |  Health
'World's first hand transplant'
25 Sep 98 |  Background Briefings
The art of transplantation
25 Sep 98 |  Health
Transplants for the future

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories